It’s quite likely that if you’ve been hearing reports from the news that there is a cybersecurity pandemic currently happening, meaning that all your PC’s are going to be menaced by all sorts of nasty bugs and viruses that will turn your PC into a lump of expensive spare parts. While it is true that cybercrime and internet safety should be something on the mind every time you use the internet on any device, the recent reports of an impending internet crime apocalypse are hype designed to sell newspapers.
Threats on the internet are not a new thing, but as more people get online and technology becomes more common digital crimes are becoming a more lucrative form of organised crime. Unwanted software on your PC is commonly referred to as ‘Malware’ or ‘Adware’and not all of it is truly malicious, but you should actively avoid putting your devices in a position where it can become a target fortracking cookies, spyware, Trojans, viruses and any other items that put your security at risk.
There are a few good rules to follow to keep you and your computer safe. When so much of your personal data gets moved around on your PC and the internet you can’t be too careful. These are a handful of the best measures you can take to avoid becoming a target online.
Put Up your Defences
The first thing to do before you put your PC online is make sure you have a Firewallinstalled on your PC. A Firewall monitors traffic in and out of your PC, and stops potentially malicious access to your PC from the network.
You also need to have an antivirus software, which scans the processes and files on your PC and compares them to a database of known malicious items. An antivirus alone won’t stop bad code and applications getting onto your PC, most installations of malware are in fact approved by the user without them knowing. Which is why it is important to only download and use software that is trusted. Malicious software found in application you have installed is called a “Trojan”, these are often found in downloads from the internet.
Keep Up To Date
Many hackers and malicious items use exploits in your systems to deploy their malware and access your PC. Most of the exploits found in software and the operating system are removed by applied updates called patches. Many patches will often be downloaded and installed in the background without you noticing. It is important to make sure Windows, your antivirus and your installed applications are up to date to reduce attacks through exploits on your system. If the Antivirus is up to date, it is more likely to notice malicious software on your PC and warn you.
Old hardware and operating systems are more prone to attack than modern systems too. Modern PC’s often contain technologies to prevent unwanted software from loading on your PC, and can stop unauthorised user access more effectively. Old PC’s and operating systems have had more exposure to the world, so more ways to attack them have been developed.
Don’t get attached
Another method of getting malware on your PC is called “Phishing”. Phishing is when mass emails are “cast” out with an attachment(often a .zip, .exe, .msi, or .bat) or an email link directing to a harmful site to many people at once. Many Phishing emails can be caught with a “spam filter” and won’t reach you, but again this cannot be relied upon.
Many Phishing emails that are successful will masquerade as important or official news or notices, like the bank or council. Always exercise caution when looking through your mail, you can look at email without causing issues to investigate the message content, butdo not open any attachments or follow links if you are even just a little suspicious. Your bank will never ask you to follow a link or for any details via email nor will official government bodies such as HM Revenue and Customs.
A few things to look out for to help spot spam:
Does it reference your name, or does it use generic titles like Sir, Miss and customer? Sometimes it will use you email handle such as ‘Dear firstname.lastname@example.org…’ these should raise suspicion of spam or phishing.
Do you recognise the source email address? Highlight the link before clicking on it, many email clients and web browsers allow you to view the web address of a link without following it. Is the email address what the link or email says it is?
People give their personal details away on the internet every day without even thinking about it, everything from posting pictures on a social network site, or filling in a form online puts your data out there for someone to see. Putting your email address to enter a competition may result in you being on the mail list for several spam-bots. Always take into account where you are entering the information.
Posts on social media may inadvertently make you more prone to attack. Things like your birthday, where you work, your address, adding tags to places you regularly visit are all useful information to hackers who might actively want to access your systems. Also,cybercrime doesn’t just happen on your PC. If you make an announcement about your upcoming holiday, what you’re saying to some people is “My house is left unattended for an extended period of time”.
Have a backup plan
Prevention is better than cure, but sometimes accidents happen and not every possibility can be accounted for and you can find yourself the victim of a cyber-attack. It isn’t the end of the world and you can often mitigate many of the problems associated by just being prepared.
Regularly backup your data to an external storage device like a USB hard drive or a cloud storage platform, this means if you lose data for whatever reason you have a copy to recover if you have to do a total system reinstall.
Create restore points if you’re using a PC. Rolling back your PC can often have the effect of reinstalling the operating system without the prolonged downtime and hassle of installing your data and programs all over again.
Use a variety of passwords for all your online services. If someone works out your username/password combination for one service that you use, and you use it for multiple things they have effectively broken into everything you own. This means you don’t have to change all of your passwords if you suspect security for one service is compromised.
Your hardware will almost always be able to survive a virus outbreak, but your data is far more difficult to recover.
While most of this information is targeted at PC users, almost all of the information is transferable to other devices, such as tablets, Apple Macs and smartphones. It doesn’t matter what you’re using, stay safe!